Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Zeev Elkin has made it his mission to make Israel’s capital not just a city of the past but a city of the future.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post about his role, Elkin said the idea of his ministry is not to be a second municipality in Jerusalem. “We are responsible for all the government programs in Jerusalem. That means that the Jerusalem Municipality needs to manage the day-by-day life of the city.”
One of the main entities that Elkin’s ministry is responsible for is the Jerusalem Development Authority. “The JDA is a mutual venture of our ministry and the Jerusalem municipality. It’s a tool for developing Jerusalem,” he said. “We have several projects and big plans; the budget was increased from the original NIS 350m. to NIS 850m. for the next five years,” he said.
Elkin explained that the JDA is the main entity today that funds and advances projects in the Old City and surrounding area, from different festivals, such as the Festival of Lights, through trail restoration, lighting and construction of a promenade, to wide-scale site development such as that of the Mount of Olives
cemetery as well as linking national parks around the Old City of Jerusalem. The JDA also plays a key role in the development of startups in the city as well as cultivating tourism.
“It’s a big government program with many elements, including the development of city parks like the Tachana Rishona (First Station) and the Emek Refaim Park, among others. The second biggest government program that Elkin and the JDA are focused on is a development project of the Old City of Jerusalem and activity on the Mount of Olives in trying to create a better security situation for the historical site, which they hope will bring many more Israelis to visit this place.
Delving deeper into the ministry and authority’s focus on startups and tourism, Elkin said, “Our responsibility as the government is to try and be active in the fields that need a national level of decisions and support that couldn’t be developed, decided or solved by the municipal councils,” he explained.
“For example, the strategic plan for the development of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has now become one of the 25 leading places in the world for startups; this is something new. There has been a lot of government activity of our ministry for several years to support new startups to be established in Jerusalem or to be moved to Jerusalem.
“Step-by-step, after Tel Aviv, Jerusalem has become the second center of hi-tech and startups in Israel,” he said. “Jerusalem has come to be known not only as a city of the past but a city of the future.”
The other example is the development of tourism in Jerusalem.
“The continued development of tourism is important for the economic prosperity of the city. Jerusalem is the most important point of tourism for Israel,” Elkin highlighted. “Most tourists who come to Israel come to visit Jerusalem – they don’t visit Jerusalem because they are in Israel.”
“Of course, you can’t bring the responsibility of developing the infrastructure of Israeli tourism to the local municipal council, because it’s an issue of all the cities in Israel, not just Jerusalem,” Elkin emphasized.
He also expressed excitement over a newly-established governmental program to protect the international status of Jerusalem.
“There have been a lot of attacks against Jerusalem and its Jewish roots over the last year from within the UN, and UNESCO trying to deny the Jewish roots of Jerusalem’s history,” he said. “Together with the Foreign Affairs minister, we will bring decision makers, politicians, music and movie stars to visit Jerusalem to see its history because the city can speak for itself – they don’t need propaganda. The true story of the city can speak for itself,” Elkin said.
In his message to Jerusalem’s residents, Elkin said leaders and citizens equally share the responsibility of creating the Jerusalem of tomorrow.
“We have a lot of responsibility for the future of this city. It’s not an ordinary city; it’s a city of our fathers and their fathers. It’s a city that they prayed to return to for thousands of years. We’ve succeeded in coming here to build it and develop it, but we face a lot of challenges… The city is a product of the people who are living here – not just the leaders. It has to make each and every one of us think on a daily basis, ‘How can we improve and develop this city further?’” he added.
“Jerusalem is a kind of lab for future Israeli programs. While we are trying to cope with the demographic complexities of Jerusalem now, it has broader relevance. Solving these problems on a Jerusalem level will be the key to solving the problems that the State of Israel faces,” Elkin concluded.The full interview will be featured in The Jerusalem Post's Diplomatic Conference magazine. The conference will take place on December 6 in Jerusalem.